Black History Month in Northern England

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Heritage months are a time for the public to learn, celebrate and focus on various, often
marginalized populations within their communities.
As a cultural studies major and more importantly, an African American woman, Black History
Month holds a significant place in my heart.

In the UK, Black History was launched in the 1980s, not surprisingly in London. It was largely a
community effort that worked to challenge racism in British society and the Eurocentric version
of history taught in British classrooms.

October is Black History Month in Britain; while participating, I made sure to take notice of the
racialized activities happening around me. Here’s what I noticed:

Universities have dedicated Black History Month Programming

Chloe is a Leeds student who has been elected to be the Equality and Diversity Officer of the
student union. Her job is to “make sure the Student Union, University and further afield are
accessible and inclusive to everyone. They fight to make your time at Leeds fair.” She put
together a Black History Month guide for all students that included Black Owned businesses
students could eat at, shop at or support. Additionally, the guide included a map with the
campus buildings renamed to significant Black Brits and a brief history of their significance.
Every Monday the university would host an Afro-Caribbean eatery. Additionally, the first week
of November is Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Creative Week (BAME). My favorite event was
an interactive workshop with a female graphic designer.

ACSshowcase; black history month

There are many niche cultural societies to seek support from

At the University of Leeds there are 10+ different societies across the foci of culture, media,
welfare and politics that are dedicated to African and Black identities. I didn’t need to be a
member of all or any of them to seek advice or support. About a month into my study abroad
experience, I wanted to get my hair done and possibly purchase hair extensions. All I had to do
was message the Black Feminist Society or OnBeat Student Magazine (for POC and Queer
women) and my inbox was met with recommendations.

A screenshot of text messages recommending the best place to get hair done

Britain’s BHM is more diaspora inclusive

This goes along with my first point but something that pleasantly surprised me was the
inclusivity and equal promotion of Afro-Caribbean, African and Black British identities when
discussing Black History month. In the U.S. I feel as though we forget all the different places you
can be from and still identify as black. It was uplifting to see all groups get recognized.

However, Racial Tensions STILL lie under the surface

With the all the great events to keep me occupied, I couldn’t help but notice that outside of
most rooms, no discussions about race relations were taking place. When you think of England
you think of London, a diverse cosmopolitan city. However, London can’t speak for the entire
Kingdom. The general theme I saw outside of Black History Month events was people not
talking about the racial inequality in the country. The assumption that since Britain is generally
more progressive than most developed nations now, that we can forget its colonial past. This is
not unique to Leeds; I’ve interacted with various people from all over the United Kingdom and
it seems to be a part of the national conscious.

So?

While the country as a whole is still slowly working to accept and discuss their pasts;
universities are doing exceptional work on their campuses to dismantle systems of oppressions
and celebrate their Black and African identified students. The work these institutions are doing
will prepare their students to go forth and engage in critical national or even international
dialogues about race and many more subjects.

Chioma Uwagwu is a double major in Communication and Cultural Studies at the
University of St.Thomas and is studying abroad with IFSA at University of Leeds
in England in Fall 2019. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through
the Work-To-Study Program.

Article by Chioma Uwagwu